Gaining Life

Sermon, Lent 2B

Sunday March 2, 2012.

St Petri

Mark 8:31-38

Gaining Life

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? 37 Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? 38 If any of you are ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Well, how are we going with this Giving, praying, fasting journey? I am managing to get midday praying worked into the day and I am having a go at the others. But these things are to be done between ourselves and the Lord. So, no more information!!  Keep going and trying. Somehow, the Lord will reward our efforts in his way and timing. Our prayer is that we hear him speak and we come to some clarity about our life’s directions as people and as a community of Jesus.

We have some strong words between two strong men. The strong words are centred around a difference of vision of living life to the full.

As is often the case with Jesus and his friends, a moment of conflict creates a moment of insight. The conflict is between Peter and Jesus and it is about Jesus vision of being the new King.

Peter has just responded to a question by Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?”. Someone once said that this is the only question that matters for living, and that this is the big question the gospel writers seek to help us respond to.

“Who do you say I am?”, asks Jesus. Peter then gives what is called “the Great Confession”. “You are the Christ, “Messiah”; “promised new king”.

Well then, that’s that! The secret is out, the faith is there and we are on track for a new beginning. Jesus will do it. He will come to power. We will get rid of the Romans, get rid of the lawyers and scribes who keep us pinned down with guilt and fear of God’s judgement and endless law-keeping and all will be sweet!

We will finally get our country back and so, have our own destiny again. We will be able to sow and reap as we please and times will be good……

Straight after this exciting new moment Jesus quickly shifts gears. Immediately after this high point of confession of faith comes another announcement about grim stuff.

…….the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

What? What is this talk of pain, suffering, defeat again, grief, sorrow, oppression…. What has that got to do with the plan, Jesus; the plan for new life and hope and business and prosperity and being masters of our destiny again? Peter tells Jesus this is not how it should be.

“….Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him”.

“Rebuke”. Strong word! This is not Tiddly Winks. This is a direct calling into question Jesus’ vision and intention of his kingship; his purpose, his plan and his character.

Jesus responds. He responds directly and swiftly. “Get behind me, Satan” he commands. Jesus leaves no doubt that Peter, nor any of the other hearers have this authority over him. Nor can they handle this truth and this upside down vision of kingship and new life.

What’s the cause of the conflict? Different focus. Peter (and presumably the others) are focussed on the things of people. Jesus is focussed on the things of God. Peter and the others want what we all want – freedom to live and work in peace, freedom to conduct business and be proud of our country. The ability to raise children and provide for them and etc…..

Jesus wants to deal a final blow to death for human beings. Jesus wants to wipe the floor with Satan and all his demons who harass and bind up people. Jesus wants to provide a trusted way of dealing with the ongoing problem of sin that cripples all creation. (Just small matters!!). Jesus wants Peter and the others to know the lasting love of God for them and to be captivated by it so that life is no longer to be found in such limited and short lived things.

Well, bravo for Jesus! But why does it mean all this suffering and evil and pain and grief that he speaks of now? “This is not part of the plan, Jesus”, we echo with Peter.

Then Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”.

Why all this denial of the things we all want?

35 Because whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

it is possible to lose our life to limited, unworthy and life-taking things and so, forfeit our place of blessing and love with the Lord.

Jesus’ way of gaining lasting and full life is to give up what we think life is all about – to “lose” our life in his good news. But our way is to immerse ourselves in the things around us and pursue them with our very soul, but in the end give up lasting and full life with God.

Quite a problem we have!

This word of Jesus is so hard to believe this in our time, don’t you think? We have it all and we think that the “all’ we have is enough. It seems like it. Having means, options, security, beauty, comfort and general peacefulness seems like life to the full.

Funny how it is never enough though. We seem to keep on having to get more, earn more, be more, make more, find more. Is this because the things we think are fully life leak? Or is it because we have moments when we know that the very things we pursue can’t deliver the life we really know we need.

Can we earn love? Can we buy the love our spouse or our children? Can we earn the respect of our friends by having the most stuff or being the “biggest man” in the room?

Are we really so smart as to be able to control our life, our health, our future so that everyone says we “have got it made”, we are “really living” as they pass us by?

We know this focus on only what is around us is flawed. Ever talked with a cancer sufferer, or a mum and dad who have lost a child, or a person who has lost the capacity to be mobile or work? Ever talked to a person going through divorce or suffering any kind of painful illness?

The painful things stop us in our tracks. These things force us to ponder Jesus’ way of life….

36 What good is it for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? 37 Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?

So, where is it at with you, friend? Has there been forfeiting of your soul going on? Have you been trying to pay for a place in God’s grace by earning approval of someone or something?

This word is one of those “Stock Take” kind of moments. Jesus confronts, Peter, the others and us with these truth questions. He does this not to leave us unsure of his intentions or his blessing on our life.

He has just announced that he is going to gallows for Peter, the others and us. Our misdirected and ignorant misplaced pursing of what we think is “full life” does not stop him in the slightest. He does not even break stride.

  1. He is going to death to show us another way – his way.

  2. He is still dying to show us his lasting and full life.

Jesus is saying that our life is lived to the absolute full in him. He is love. He is peace. He is security in any fear – even in fear of the greatest enemy – death. He will see us through that one and any shadow of it we face.

He says he will beat death and the shadow it casts over us “in three days”.

He is determined to help us know the pure and perfect love we seek. He is determined to bring into our marriages, families, workplaces a tangible hope for living now. He is determined to teach us life as we live it in him and get us to the end of this part of it to that day when he will not be ashamed of us and how we lived, because we trusted him and he loved us and we relied on his forgiveness and power to deliver what he promises – full life, real life, his life, lasting life that is not subject to rust, mould or aging, like everything else we have in our houses and sheds and wallets.

Friends, why wouldn’t we follow him into his suffering and death for us? Why wouldn’t we be Simon of Cyrene and pick up Jesus’ cross and live this journey with him.

  1. Without him we are dead. With him we are alive.

  2. Our vision of truly living life is limited: His gift of lasting life is unlimited: full and complete.

  3. We tend to forfeit our soul. He wins it back for us.

  4. Our eyes tend to be limited to what we can see here. His eyes see it all loved us all.

Friends, let’s not forfeit our life in Christ but pursue it – even more than the things around us and trust that his life is the fullest.

Amen

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